Eckel has experience teaching south of the border
After graduating from Prescott High School in 1972, Eckel earned a bachelors degree in secondary education from Prescott College, with additional work at Yavapai College and Northern Arizona University.
Although her family heritage is Italian and German, the Spanish language flows in the background, as it does in many families with deep roots in the Southwest.
"Both my grandmothers spoke Spanish as children. One grandmother, Dolly Depetris, was born in Mayer. She's buried in the Mayer Cemetery. Her family only spoke Italian or Spanish around the house. When she started elementary school, that's all she spoke."
Eckel's other grandmother grew up around Casa Grande.
"She spoke Spanish she learned from being around all the farmworkers down there."
Eckel began learning Spanish in the third grade.
"I had Mrs. Zinkel and Mr. Negret, Mr. Lopez and Señor Castenetta as teachers."
After receiving her degree, Eckel began her teaching career locally.
"I taught in the Chino Valley School District and Humboldt School District. I love teaching and I love the kids."
Her venue for teaching changed dramatically during a vacation in Mexico.
"I was hiking on a mountain down there with an aunt and it just came to me as I was reaching the top. I decided what I really wanted to do was open a school in Cholla Bay."
Her choice of terms says a lot about Eckel's approach to this school.
The area most Arizonans know as Rocky Point is home to a great many more Mexicans who call it Cholla Bay.
"I called it Escuela Del Sol, 'School of the Sun.' It's an elementary school. We teach kindergarten through first grade. When I came there, the children could repeat lines from movies and now they can speak English."
After two years of living a seaside village life, teaching English to Mexican children, the education and cultural needs of her own children compelled her to return to the Prescott area.
"I have five kids. One son is 28 and he's married with two kids of his own. One son is 22. He's lived in Mexico for three years and is marrying a girl from Sonora. One son is 16. He's at Bradshaw Mountain High School now. One son is 8. He's my cowboy, my 'vaquero.' And my daughter is 7 and she's the one giving me white hair."
Wanting her three youngest children to have a chance at school life in America, Eckel returned to the Prescott area and began teaching Spanish in Mayer Unified School District.
"Spanish is a much easier language to learn than English," she said. "Believe me, my new daughter-in-law-to-be is a lawyer from Sonora and she is having a more difficult time learning English because of all the exceptions to the rule in spelling and grammar. Plus, hey, she's a lawyer, she's a perfectionist."
Eckel says she'd like to see more interaction between Prescott area teachers and students and their counterparts in the Cholla Bay area.
"I'd love to see teachers from this area going down to use my school. Arizona students could really benefit from learning in another culture too. My own daughter is bilingual. She started out in Mexican kindergarten, which is mostly social arts, writing/reading and then she was in first grade. It came very natural to her in that kind of immersion atmosphere.
"I'd also love to see a center in Cholla Bay, a learning co-op where "at-risk" kids could see kids living in real poverty and get some perspective."
In her MHS classroom, Eckel plans to augment the Spanish grammar textbook with "experience based learning: such as cooking, art projects, field trips, when I can get the approval."
She also would like to hear from area residents with experience in Hispanic cultures.
"If people have lived in Mexico or Central or South America or maybe they grew up in a Hispanic household here in America, I'd love to hear from them. I want to bring in guest speakers to give my students real-life information about living in these cultures."
Those wishing to know more about Eckel's guest speaker program or Escuela Del Sol may call 928-632-7629.
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